The Guardian December 1, 1999


Britain:
New blows to civil liberties

by Daphne Liddle

The Queen's speech delivered on November 17 announced 28 Bills and few 
surprises but did contain a lot of tightening of the screws of the 
bourgeois state to further limit British people's dwindling civil 
liberties.

Perhaps the most worrying of these is a Bill to transfer the Prevention of 
Terrorism Act (PTA)  originally designated a temporary emergency measure 
in 1975 but renewed regularly ever since  into permanent law.

This is described as a tidying up measure but will actually considerably 
widen the scope of the PTA to encompass political, environmental and 
religious activists.

It comes at a time when the Irish peace process means there has been 
virtually no form of violent political activity in Britain for several 
years and little prospect of any.

The logic behind the setting up of the PTA in the first place should now 
demand its complete repeal. But it always was really a measure of class 
oppression and its widening now suggests an intensifying of the class war.

The definition of terrorism is to be widened to: "The use of serious 
violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence to 
intimidate or coerce the government, the public or any section of it for 
political, religious or ideological grounds."

The new Bill will also outlaw "incitement" by foreign dissidents based in 
Britain which could affect exile communities such as the Kurds.

It will make it an offence to be "connected with" terrorism, which could be 
open to almost any interpretation.

There will be a Bill for privacy in communications to cover electronic 
communications and a Freedom of Information Bill.

However, these are both contradicted by the wider electronic surveillance 
powers to be given to police and intelligence services in the PTA and so 
are unlikely to be anything other than cosmetic.

A new Criminal Justice Bill will limit the right to trial by jury, giving 
magistrates the decision as to whether a case should be referred to a 
higher court. It will also "shake up" the probation service, and allow for 
the compulsory drugs testing of all arrested suspects.

Young offenders who do not comply with court orders will face losing their 
benefits. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of 
Offenders has already pointed out that this could leave youngsters with no 
option but to steal or beg in order to survive and actually force them into 
re-offending.

There will be a Bill to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary but whether it 
fully complies with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is yet to be 
seen.

The proposed Transport Bill is probably going to be the most controversial, 
allowing local authorities powers to charge private cars for entering 
cities and for parking at work. There will also be charges for using some 
trunk roads.

The Government has pledged that money raised will go to improving public 
transport but as long as that transport is privatised, the government  
either national or local  will have few powers to ensure improvements are 
properly implemented.

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